Every two years or so, Shannon Avison and I sit down and begin mapping out the INCA Summer Institute, and subsequent internships. We discuss media trends, education goals, and round up the best of the best when it comes to Aboriginal journalists. It’s a great time. I look forward to this. Each year we have a grand plan that seems almost impossible to pull off. We both like to think on a big, big scale. What’s the craziest thing we can do? And then, with the help of the students, we just figure out how to do it. This year is no different. What you see here is a labour of love. More than 80 stories, profiles from every year the university has granted degrees, features of great programs, and photos and video of its history and beauty today. This is a very special place.
When I think of the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), so many things come to mind: home, family, education, tradition, culture, and friendship, just to name a few. As a young woman from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, I didn’t realize that all throughout my undergraduate degree I was searching for a place I belonged. But, in fact, I was. While I made many friends throughout my degree, it wasn’t until the year I graduated and launched my journalism career that I would find that place in the trailers of what was then known as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC).
That was the year, Shannon Avison of Indian Communication Arts (INCA) and creator of this website, found me. Well, to be fair INCA alumnus, Mervin Brass, found me and introduced me to Shannon. She was looking for a broadcast journalism instructor to assist Mervin in the INCA summer institute that year. Mervin and I were working together at CBC Saskatchewan, and so it was a perfect fit. I remember walking in to the classroom on the first day, seeing young Aboriginal people filling every seat, ready to learn, joking with one another, meeting for the first time, and I was in awe. I have been working with INCA and the university ever since.
As a young Métis woman I wasn’t always sure who I was or where I fit in. People talk about straddling two worlds, I felt like I was straddling many more but was a resident of none. Academics was the easy part. Figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be was much more difficult.
That’s where Mervin Brass and Shannon Avison came in. They brought me in to the university, introduced me to other urban Aboriginal people and academics, and told me I belonged. I don’t think as a Métis woman I’d ever been told that I belonged, not really. That is the stuff that changes lives, builds confidence, and creates a space for people to not only help others succeed but improve themselves as well.
While there I started my master’s degree, and met Dr. David Miller, Dr. Blair Stonechild, Dr. Sherry Farrell-Racette, Bob Kayseas, Bettina Schneider, Sharon Peters, Belle Young, Dr. Neal McLeod, Dr. Edward Doolittle, Darren Okemaysim, the late elder Isadore Pelletier, and the late elder Ken Goodwill just to name a few. In fact, Dr. Stonechild is the one who took a chance on me and offered me the chance to teach an Indigenous Studies class. He spent many hours helping me create content, select textbooks, and prepare assignments and lectures. I will always appreciate that. Dr. Neal McLeod, also helped me organize and get myself ready to do my thesis. When I felt like I just couldn’t possibly be smart enough as an academic, he showed me how I was already doing the work without the credentials and helped see me through.
Here I have really worked on two separate careers. The academic one I mention above, as well as my journalistic career. Through INCA I’ve met and worked with so many talented Aboriginal journalists: Betty Ann Adam, John Lagimodiere, Nelson Bird, Judy Bird, Mervin Brass, Connie Walker,Michelle Hugli-Brass and many more. Each year, a kind of family formed between the students and instructors that spent 7 long weeks together. Each year, it was sad to say goodbye at the end of the institute, even though everyone was literally exhausted. We created regional and network radio shows, launched newspapers and magazines, and created hour-long television shows, and now an incredible website. Through it all, I have found lifelong friends through the institute, like Tessa Desnomie, Mike Bird, Diane Adams, Kerry Benjoe, Morgan Beaudry, Michelle Hugli, and those I hope I have yet to meet (hint, hint Shannon).
In fact, so many things have come full circle since my first summer Institute in 2000. When Shannon, Mervin, and myself sat down the first time, Shannon’s children were playing in the background, years later I’d meet Mervin’s young daughter, then I had a daughter, then Mervin and I taught Shannon’s son, and this year I taught Mervin’s daughter and both my children were playing in the background while we planned and worked, just more INCA family and children to love. That’s the best part of this, we are all family.
What you see in the pages of this website is just a small taste of the accomplishments of the students and staff of this great institution. It is not perfect. There are struggles and challenges. But there are also victories, beauty, and a kind of resiliency that is only formed when what you have to create is not easily done but is just plain worth it. 40 Years of Indigenous Education – The Website was not easy to create. But it has been so worth it. This summer, the small crew you see in the photo above finished the monumental task of showcasing what this amazing university really is all about. Some of us are First Nations, others non-Status, Métis, and non-Aboriginal, but just like those who have gone to school and worked here over the years, we all love this institution, the people in it, and know how this institution can help change the world.
My sincere hope is that you enjoy reading the stories, looking at the photos, and watching the video as much as we have enjoyed creating it.
-Editor, Merelda Fiddler-Potter